Mincha and the Third Seudah: Grace Within Grace 1
Don’t draw the wrong conclusion from Minchah’s brevity. It’s not what you think it is.
We add generously to the tefilos on Shabbos. The evening gets its kabbolas Shabbos; pesukei de-zimrah of Shacharis are greatly expanded. We throw in an additional Shemonah Esreh for Mussaf. Minchah is almost neglected. To be sure, we lein. The actual prayer content, however, is largely unembellished.
We could easily conclude that by the time that Shabbos ebbs away, we have depleted what we have to say. Our seforim teach us the polar opposite. The final hours of Shabbos are so precious, that they are best served by the eloquence of understatement.
Shabbos shares much with the beis ha-mikdosh. Entering it, we encounter successively more potent levels of kedushah, as we move from the chatzer to the kodesh to the kodesh kodashim. Going from maariv on leyl Shabbos to Schacharis to the hours of minchah and the third seudah that follows it, we travel a similar route. The kedushah increases as we move further along the route.
The Kedushah we recite at Musaf according to nusach sefard begins with the word kesser. Siduro Shel Shabbos 2 argues that this is because the Musaf Shemonah Esreh aims on the kabalistic level at a tikkunof the sefirah of kesser, whose place is atop the entire structure of the sefiros. What is left for minchah? Minchah, he declares, occupies itself with even holier affairs. It should be seen as akin to placing the kesser/ crown on the Head of the King! At such an ethereal time, when our neshamos are overcome by the immediacy of Hashem’s presence, mere speech becomes difficult, in the spirit of “To You silence is praise.” 3
Minchah is brief, therefore, not because we have nothing left to say, but because the great deal that there is to say at such a holy time defies ordinary speech.
A single line that we add to minchah perfectly crystallizes the mood of the final hours of Shabbos, and the third seudah that accompanies them. “As for me, my prayer is to You Hashem, at the time of Your grace.” 4
The Zohar 5 links the third seudah to Yaakov, seeing it alluded to in the verse “Then you will delight in Hashem…I will cause you to feast on the inheritance of your forefather Yaakov.” 6 The very same verse is the gemara’s proof-text that “those who delight in Shabbos are given a portion without limit.” 7 The limitlessness of this berachah is perfectly suited to Yaakov, whose avodah was in the realm of elevating the mundane and ordinary. Yaakov took the concerns of raising and supporting a family, and turned them into Torah. The realms of mitzvah and aveirah are circumscribed; there are only so many demands and restrictions Hashem places upon us. The objects and events that lie outside that realm – things that are neither demanded nor forbidden – are essentially limitless. Yaakov, who applied himself to this limitless universe, found limitless opportunities for growth and elevation. Befitting such an avodah is a reward without limit. It is no wonder that we eat Yaakov’s seudah – the third seudah of Shabbos – at a time of day called ra’ava de-ra’ava, or grace within grace.
One way to understand the signature prayer of minchah, therefore, is “As for me, my prayer is – to You! Help me elevate all that I encounter, that I may use them only in Your service, and bring them closer to You!”
The minchah prayer, the prayer of the time of most Divine favor, stands in stark contrast to the “prayer of the poor man, when he is faint and pours out his supplication before Hashem.” 8 Real poverty, say Chazal, is in and of the mind. 9 The poor, afflicted person of this verse has made many mistakes, and squandered many opportunities to restore his relationship with Hashem. Consequently, he feels himself at a distance from Him, and finds nothing uplifting in his life. The success of his prayer is best represented by Kayin’s entreaty to Hashem following his murder of his brother Hevel. Having been sentenced to a life of exile, he met up with Adam, who asked him how his trial went. Kayin told him that he had repented, and as a result his sentence had been lightened. Adam chided himself for not realizing the power of repentance, and composed mizmor shir le-yom ha- Shabbos. 10 In other words, even though Kayin had been sentenced to an unsettled life of wandering, he would be able to find some peace of mind – on Shabbos. This alludes to the ability of those who have committed great sins to still draw near to Hashem through the power of Shabbos.
Kayin’s prayer succeeded in making a terrible situation not quite so bad. The prayer of “the time of Your grace” is very different. Kayin’s prayer is focused and limited; the prayer of Shabbos’ final hours knows no bounds. It is a prayer of huge expectations, not of small, modest requests. It asks for complete and absolute redemption, not the solving of small problems. This should be our mindset at the time of shaleshudes; this is what our hearts should be full of. We should skip over the particulars and details, and go for broke! We cannot afford to skimp on what we seek in our hearts from Hashem at that hour. With the large prize within our grasp, we should not waste an opportunity by going after a smaller one.
The ladder that Yaakov saw in his dream provides a variation on this theme. Yaakov saw angels descending and ascending the ladder. He also saw Hashem standing over him. 11 These two images represent two different kinds of Divine providence. The orderly succession of angels symbolizes providence within the protocols and systems that are set into motion through the judgment of Rosh Hashanah. In a word, it represents the “natural” order of things.
Because it is Hashem’s Will to give of His goodness, He provides alternatives when the “natural” conduits of Divine giving are blocked. He “stands over” even the undeserving person, ready to exercise a kind of providence that bypasses the expected channels. What those channels cannot deliver, He delivers Himself. (The Zohar cited above asserts that all berachah flows from Shabbos, both “lower” and “upper” berachos. Quite possibly, the “lower” berachah refers to the fixed, regular orderly conduct of Man’s affairs; the “upper” berachah is Hashem’s bypassing of the natural laws in favor of the dictates of His Will. Both of these pathways bring berachah to Man; both are fed by a Divine Influenced sourced in Shabbos.
At the special time of “grace within grace,” there are no limits to what Hashem will grant. What is ordinarily impossible according to the “rules” moves into the realm of possibility. Our heart’s prayer, at this time of the third meal, can be anything at all.
1 Based on Nesivos Shalom, v.2 pg. 98-102
2 9:1; authored by R. Chaim of Tchernowitz, better known as the Be’er Mayim Chaim
3 Tehilim 65:2
4 Tehilim 69:14
6 Yeshayahu 58:14
7 Shabbos 118A
8 Tehilim 102:1
9 See Kesubos 68A
10 Bereishis Rabbah 22:13. See Yefei To’ar, who suggests that “Shabbos” is meant as an allusion to the word shav, or repent. The Rebbe here understands the connection very differently.
11 Bereishis 28:13
Text Copyright © 2009 by Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein and Torah.org